Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Ebenezer

 June 19, 2024

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come." 
~ Robert Robinson


Have you ever played a word-association game where someone says a particular word and then you say the first thing that comes to mind? For example, if I say salt and you might respond with pepper; or if I say beach you might say tropical or Waikiki. What if I said Ebenezer? Many people might say Scrooge — but a few people with a sturdy hymn background might come back with ‘here I raise my…’ quoting from the familiar line in the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (noted above).


It’s a great hymn with a great back story (that we’ll save for a different blog). If this hymn was part of your childhood, you probably sang about your Ebenezer long before you ever understood what an Ebenezer was. If you still don’t know, you’re about to learn! 


Remember that baby of Hannah’s (from our last post)? Samuel? Well, he grew up to be both a prophet and judge over the nation of Israel. During one particular battle with Israel’s nemesis neighbors, the Philistines, Samuel was able to unite the people to seek the Lord’s help and God responded in a mighty way:

But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.  And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them... 1 Samuel 7:10-11 


That was awesome…a reason to rejoice for sure, but Samuel wanted to make sure they didn’t quickly forget about the Lord’s intervention, so:

Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” v.12 


That is the essence of an Ebenezer — marking the Lord’s help in our lives. I actually like the NIV rendering “Thus far the Lord has helped us”.


During retreats, I often encourage the ladies to reflect on what God has done in their lives. Our natural path is one of forgetfulness, so we need to be purposeful in recounting and celebrating God’s work. I think one of the best ways, one of the most natural ways, is to make use of regularly-occurring significant events in our lives as an opportunity to raise an Ebenezer. For example, on your birthday — take time to commemorate the specific work of God in your life in the previous year — raise some Ebenezers. New Year's Day might be another good opportunity, or the beginning or ending of a school year; whatever is significant in your rhythm of life. 


The beauty of raising an Ebenezer is obvious. The more we celebrate God’s help in the past, the more encouraged we will be to ask for His help in the future. God loves to help His kids and He loves for us to ask for His help. If you haven’t raised an Ebenezer recently (or ever) today would be a good time to do just that!


So, I have personally come to a significant moment to raise an Ebenezer — and that is the completion of phase one of my treatment — thus far has the Lord helped me!  Praise the Lord that phase is in the rearview mirror. Now I am encouraged to ask for His help for phase two, which will begin this coming Tuesday and run for twelve weeks. 


My prayer requests are the same: 1) that the chemo would be effective, 2) that I would stay healthy enough to stay on schedule, and 3) that I would embrace a season of rest.


Speaking of rest, Paul and I will be celebrating our 46th wedding anniversary on Sunday with a little get-away with our family. It all just sort of fell into place, so we’re going to take advantage of the blessing and we’ll be back in church the following Wednesday for another episode in Exodus!


My Love,

Sue

sue@ccontario.com


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

No Longer Sad

 June 12, 2024

“Hannah went her way and ate,

and her face was no longer sad." ~ 1 Samuel 1:18


Many people know the Biblical figure Hannah from the Old Testament. She was the mother of Samuel, the child given to the service of the Lord who later became a central figure in the days of David. There must be something about her life that resonates with people (women in particular) because, of all the Bible lessons I’ve taught, the narrative of Hannah is THE most popular by quite a bit. 

Perhaps Hannah personifies our human condition: 

  • She was facing a certain brand of personal difficulty — not being able to conceive a child. We all face some type of personal difficulties in life as well. 

  • She suffered from annoying interactions with those close to her — her husband meant well but his efforts to cheer her missed the mark — her rival purposefully provoked her — the spiritual figure in her world misunderstood her and accused her of being drunk. We also have irregular people in our lives that can cause similar irritations. 

All of the situations in Hannah’s life created a recipe for a nasty brew of emotions and, you guessed it, sometimes we also experience a nasty brew of emotions. But, the beauty of her story lies in the choices she made as to what to do with her emotions. 

Look how intense Hannah’s emotions were as she went to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:10-11) Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. This was a woman carrying hard emotions and the reality is that we sometimes find our path filled with hard emotions

We can’t always control how we feel, but we can control what we do about how we feel. Hannah gives us a simple, yet profound example of what to do with hard emotions, the ONLY answer is to run to the Lord and pour out your soul (v.15). It’s okay to be in deep distress and to weep bitterly (v.10), to have great anxiety and vexation (v.16), those are real emotions, they’re hard emotions. But it’s not okay to be inconsolable and unable to receive refreshment from the Lord. 

In Hannah’s case, the very person who accused her of being a babbling drunk gave her a promise of the exact refreshment she was seeking! (v.17) Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”  How easy it would have been for emotions to rule the day and for her to lash out something to the effect that Eli understood nothing of what was going on in her life and how dare he even say anything to her

But Hannah instinctively knew something about the Lord that later Psalmists would write in many different ways — when a person cries out to the Lord, He hears!

Psalm 34:6 In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles. 

Hannah was looking for refreshment and willing to receive refreshment. I love how the episode at the temple is quickly wrapped up in v.18 Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. Isn’t that a simple goal in life? To be no longer sad? The brief amount of verses in 1 Samuel 1 might threaten to over-simplify the matter, yet sometimes we naturally over-complicate the matter, so I’m okay with it.

 Maybe there is a nugget here for someone reading today. You might have small but hard emotions, or large and hard emotions. Maybe peeking into Hannah’s life it just the inspiration you need to take any of your hard emotions to the Lord. Or, maybe someone reading today needs a summer Bible study and 1 Samuel might be just the thing!

As for me, tomorrow’s stop on the chemo train will be station 4 of 16. This is the last time I’ll be stopping at a station exactly like this one and I’m pretty happy about that. Everything in me is hoping that the remaining stations (5-16) will be a little more pleasant somehow!

Thanks for following — sending you my love and blessings,

Sue

sue@ccontario.com

www.ccontario.com/wow-1samuel


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Burger Season

 June 5, 2024

“But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her" 
~ 1 Samuel 1:5


The summer months have arrived and we’re all about to consume more backyard burgers than we bargained for! It’s all good — burgers are a staple of American social life and summer life.

I have opinions about burgers and I’m sure you do too. On our little local vacation Paul and I finally made it to the California-turned-Idaho IN-N-OUT Burgers in Meridian. Our family tribe  grabbed our boxes of burgers and walked over to enjoy them outdoors seated near the fountain in The Village

Now, IN-N-OUT has its place: nostalgia for some, budget friendly for others, and still others wouldn’t dream of going solo — it’s a social experience. It might not be your fav, but I would guess that you do have a favorite hamburger place, whether it’s a chain or a little drive-in — and if you really want a burger to savor — you know where you want to go!

My favorite burger on our end of the valley is actually at our local Japanese restaurant, Ogawas. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some rice bowls too, but I think their burgers are perfection. They use relatively thin, but large patties with crispy edges that extend beyond the border of the not-too-lofty bun (which eliminates the side-of-mouth ache in trying to open up too wide). And the accompanying fries are pretty good too. It’s a strange favorite burger place, but it’s mine. 

When our kids were little, the economic choices for our family were pretty much Wendy’s and Burger King.  I mean, we weren’t wealthy, but we didn’t have to resort to McDonalds.

Years later when our kids were still home, but grown, we hosted a young adults group called 18-28 in our home on Sunday nights. Paul considered it his favorite teaching time of the week. Coincidentally, McDonalds happened to be offering $.39 Sunday Cheeseburgers during that era, so after the Bible study dozens of young adults would toss all available loose change into a pile on the floor (along with anything found in my couch cushions). One or two guys would head over to McDs to pick up as many cheeseburgers as the cash pile could procure. 

On occasion, there would be an extra and someone would extend it in front of me with an 18yo smile and say, “Here Mrs. L, we brought you a cheeseburger”. What is one to do in that situation except smile back and say ‘thank you’?

There is a woman in the Bible that had her heart set on something important and basically had a couple of cheeseburgers extended to her. Well, it wasn’t exactly that way, but the beginning of 1 Samuel introduces us to Hannah, who had one craving in life, she desired to have a child. Her husband loved her, he knew her lack, he understood that she was barren, but the best he could come up with to encourage her was to offer her more cheeseburgers than he gave to the others. 

Actually here is what the text tells us: “On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.” (1 Samuel 1:4-5)

There was no possible way that Elkanah could have fixed Hannah’s problem — only God could meet her need. The best he could do was to offer love and support his own way, albeit in a somewhat awkward way.  

When we have an ache in our hearts because something important is lacking in our life, or we are grieving a significant loss, people’s gestures of love and affirmation can fall short, but the point is they are gestures of love and affirmation, and they do have significant meaning and even healing properties! 

We’ll take a deeper look at Hannah’s life next week, but for this short devotion, our main point is don’t expect people around you to be God — they are not — they cannot fix what is wrong! Most of them are doing the best they can by offering love and support in whatever way they are able and sometimes we just need to soak in all of those acts of love a bit more. 

Proverbs 27:9 (NLV) says “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so are a man’s words sweet to his friend.”

Whether you need to be the giver of a double portion right now, or more graciously receive the double portion — there is probably a message for all of us in Elkanah’s actions.

How does this relate to me? Well, I have truly received a mountain of encouragement from all  who have said, and done, and sent, and offered, and prayed their support my direction. I want to thank all of you and I want you to know that every single gesture is meaningful and healing, even if it doesn’t fix my core problem.

So, if a friend shows up at your door this week with two cheeseburgers — just smile, thank them, feel the love and invite them in — but if you see yellow arches on the wrapper, you don’t have to eat them

My Love,

Sue

sue@ccontario.com


Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Under Construction

 

 “The road to success is usually under construction" 

~ Arnold Palmer


It’s graduation season. Tonight, Paul and I will be attending our grand-daughter’s ceremony after having enjoyed her party over the weekend. (Parenthetically, I LOVE being the grand parent and merely showing up and having a few small assigned tasks — this is an awesome season of life!)

During graduation season, I would say the word most popularly used would be congratulations — and the second would be success. We say things like, ‘we wish you every success in whatever path you choose’.  That’s a very kind thing to say to graduates, however, it might be more helpful to quote the late professional golfer Arnold Palmer, ‘just know that the road to success is usually under construction!’ That sentiment would get it right out there to plan for a bumpy ride ahead! 

The mere mention of Arnold Palmer takes me back to the Sunday afternoons of my childhood. My mom and dad took a day of rest seriously, so after church and a fantastic dinner, they were off duty. They usually napped, but I seem to remember a lot of golf on TV — which I thought was the most boring activity anyone could possibly think up. 

Arnold Palmer was exactly my parents' age and, in the 60's, he was just about single-handedly responsible for elevating the appreciation of golf from an elite and entitled audience to a sport for the average American. That was my dad, an average American and somehow he could relate to Arnold because his road, like my dad’s, was usually under-construction. 

Reflecting on his career, Palmer wrote, Perhaps the reason people enjoyed watching me play so much was that they could relate to my predicaments. I was often where they were as I came down the stretch—in the rough, in the trees, or up the creek.”

Isn’t that the truth in life? There is no straight, level, sunny path from the beginning of our journey to the end. In spiritual terms, we might want to change the wording from ‘road to success’ to ‘finishing well’. As Christians, our goal isn’t so much to be successful in life as it is to do what God has assigned us and finish well. We want to hear those words “Well, done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). It seems to me that the road to finishing well is also usually under construction.

I love reading biographies and I have read hundreds of them. One common denominator with all the men and women whose lives I’ve admired is that they often found themselves in the rough, in the trees, or up the creek at multiple points. I cannot name one admired person, past or present, whose game of life seemed to drive happily straight down the fairway. And that doesn’t happen for us either! 

We probably all hope for the fairway of life, but that’s not our experience. Sometimes, even our most prayed-over decisions can land us in the rough; our long awaited opportunities can seem to bounce off the trees; and some unexpected life events leave us merely hearing kerplunk and seeing the ripples from the waterway.

So, what is one to do? What is the advice to the graduate? What is the advice for our own life? Here are a few morsels from the Bible that might speak to the task of persevering during construction:

  1. Hitting construction in life is an experience common to all: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  James 1:2-4

  2. Focus on the Lord’s work in your life rather than on your personal skills: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

  3. Regardless of what comes your way, put your head down and keep moving forward: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

My road construction? Well, tomorrow I’ll make a quick stop at treatment station 3 of 16 while riding the Train*. Once again, thank you for your prayers that I would make each stop on schedule! Paul and I (Lord willing) will be back at church on June 2nd. 

Until then, if you personally happen to be in the rough, in the trees, or up the creek, can I encourage you with those Scriptures above? Maybe there is someone in your life that you need to encourage as well! One thing we have in common as Christians is that we’re all endeavoring to finish well.  I would hope that we can help each other do just that.

My love and blessings,

Sue

sue@ccontario.com

* If you are new to this blog, you can find the reference to the Train on blog post May 8, 2024. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Secret Clubs

 “...so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we 
ourselves have received from God”  ~ 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NIV84)


Sitting on a little patch of squashed-down weeds, under an Elm grove, behind my mother’s vegetable garden, my older sister and I met weekly for our Secret Club. We called it the Good Deed Doers Club — I know, go ahead and roll your eyes. We were about six and eleven and from what I can remember our club meetings consisted of writing a list of helpful things we could do and taking a collection of the weekly ten cent dues. I have no memory of following through on our deeds, nor do I recall the funds ever being put to use, so perhaps I should yet call for an audit of that club account which was held suspiciously in the hands of the eleven-year-old.

Those are the types of Secret Clubs children create while waiting for life to usher them into other Clubs. Eventually we all enter into unique clubs of one type or another — some by choice, others by force. Some are a delight, some are formed from trials, some are public and some are more secret. 

I’ve been in the Pastor’s Wives Club for over 40 years and still belong. I was in the Homeschool Mom’s Club for 26 years — I think that earned me a life-time membership. For the last eight years I’ve been in the Motorcycle Drivers Club and have a card to prove it. But now, I’ve suddenly become acquainted with a new Secret Club that I really didn’t pay much attention to before — the Breast Cancer Club (BC Club, or just C Club)

Suddenly women from the BC Club approach me out of the blue and we form an immediate connection. They have something to say, a special way of encouraging me. Just this week a woman whom I had never met (but we have a recent acquaintance) drove from Boise to chat with me for an hour during my infusion and bring me a bag of extremely thoughtful and useful products. Why? She’s in The Club. The Club creates a natural sense of belonging. But there is one more aspect beyond just belonging — God put an inner drive in us to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV84):

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

I think it’s baked into our soul to be useful to others. When we have received comfort from God in a particular area of life we are compelled to turn around and invest in others.

You’ve probably passed through many Clubs in your lifetime — some secret, some not-so-secret. You may have been in the Singles Club for a season, the Unemployed Club, the Newlywed Club, the Launching a Business Club. Some of those clubs last only for a season. 

But there are other clubs that last a lifetime, or affect us for a lifetime — having a Special Needs Child, Losing a Child, Widowhood (even if you remarry).  There is a secret club for parents of prodigals and an even more special club for parents of substance-abuse prodigals. There is a tender club for those who have been abused/abandoned by the ones who promised to love them. If you have found yourself in one of these secret clubs, your first instinct was probably to look for the door and get out of the club. That’s not always possible. But what is possible is to find the comfort of the Father of compassion, who comforts us in all our troubles. Once we tap into God’s comfort in our Secret Club we are not only comforted ourselves, but we are able to partner with the Lord in bringing comfort to other members of The Club. And they need our comfort — especially when they first walk through the door of the club!

My encouragement to you is; don’t waste your pain — make the best use of whatever Club you’re a member of by comforting others in that Club.

As for me, I’m still ‘riding The Train’ on schedule. There is a sleeper car on this train and it’s quite effective. If there is such a thing as beauty sleep, well, I’m likely to come out of this ten years younger! Paul and I are taking a short local vacation with our trailer for the rest of the month of May since we have some family graduation festivities that we’re looking forward to. So if you don’t see us again until June 2nd…no worries…we’re just doing normal things.

Blessings to you all,

Sue


Ebenezer